As Toshiba develops new technology for the energy future, the company is making a big bet on North Carolina.
In 2016, Toshiba America Energy Systems consolidated several branches of Toshiba’s Energy Systems and Solutions company in Charlotte, which is known as an “energy hub” and is home to other major technology firms and clean-energy initiatives.
Southeast Energy News recently spoke with CEO Ali Azad to learn more about TAES and why the company chose Charlotte. Azad also discussed state energy policy, including whether nuclear energy should be included in the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
Azad began his career at Duke Energy in the company’s nuclear operations, though he has worked for several other energy companies. He serves on an advisory board for the George F. Woodruff School of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, and on the board of the Nuclear Energy Institute where he is also chair of NEI’s supplier advisory board.
Southeast Energy News: Toshiba American Energy Systems is a relatively new subsidiary of the Toshiba Corp. What prompted the creation of TAES?
Azad: The main reason is that Toshiba had several companies in the United States that focused on providing complementary services centered around turbines and turbine-related activities. Since our U.S. utility customers are going through consolidations, it made sense to consolidate complementary businesses under one umbrella. Previously, Toshiba had separate divisions to provide customers turbine services in the coal, nuclear and hydro industries, so it made sense to bring them together.
Why did you choose to locate TAES’ headquarters in Charlotte?
One of our companies (the nuclear division) was already based in Charlotte, and the city is very attractive for several reasons including quality of lifestyle and great school systems, and it has a reasonable cost of living. Charlotte also gives us access to a very good talent base, both energy-industry talent and corporate services, like the legal and accounting services that we need. It was an alignment of overall interests.
In Charlotte, we consolidated our San Francisco and Denver offices with the nuclear division. The Denver operation was large and it took longer to transfer here; we completed that process in August 2016. Consolidating operations in one location allows us to take advantage of economies of scale and, overall, it was a reduction in total costs to us, and it allows us to offer better service — a single point of contact — to our customer base. It’s a win-win approach for us.
Toshiba plays a role in many aspects of the energy industry — grid management, battery energy storage, turbines, hydro, geothermal, gas transformers. Is there a main focus for TAES?
We provide solutions to help new plants become operational faster and to keep existing plants running longer. Turbines and turbine-related services are our primary offerings. In fact, Toshiba has the largest share of the large steam turbine market in the U.S. with more than 100 units in the field, and we also offer nuclear, hydro and combined cycle turbines. TAES assists in the sale, installation and aftermarket service for the units that are designed and manufactured by our parent company, Toshiba Corp. That is still the core of our business.
In both Japan and the U.S., Toshiba has several different product lines in terms of grid management as well as for renewable and distributed generation, like batteries and battery storage. We are in the process of streamlining those operations, though things are not finalized regarding whether those divisions will come to TAES or go to another Toshiba company.
We want to leverage the Toshiba entity that has the best customer contacts. TAES mainly has the generation side of the business, other Toshiba entities focus on the distribution side. Regardless of which Toshiba entity owns an underlying technology, we want the division that is closest to the customer to be its main point of contact.
An idea recently floated in a couple of energy-related meetings in North Carolina is to include nuclear energy in the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Can you make a case for that?
We — Toshiba in general — support nuclear generation as a very safe and economical and very clean, zero carbon-emission source of generation. And the existing nuclear power stations in North Carolina are very well run and have a high standard of operating practice. And Duke has shown to be a very credible and efficient operator, a very safe operator.
We truly support the existing nuclear power plants in the state. We also support the construction of new plants. Toshiba along with its company, Westinghouse, is involved with the construction of nuclear plants right now in the Carolinas and in other parts of the U.S.
We do believe nuclear plays a significant role in a clean energy and a carbon-free environment. It would be extremely difficult for us as a nation to meet our obligation on carbon reduction mandates without nuclear power.
But what about nuclear waste?
Nuclear waste does need a designated repository, and we support reopening Yucca Mountain. In addition to that, the existing technology that’s in place provides for onsite storage that is well-tested, and it’s been around for a long time. That’s another area where we believe you can run these plants safely for a long time, storing the waste onsite or eventually transferring it to a depository like Yucca Mountain.
What about renewable energy such as wind and solar?
In terms of battery storage, it could potentially be a renewable energy generation enhancement product line. Toshiba is not a manufacturer of large wind turbines or solar panels, but it is interested in integrating its technology with renewable applications. TAES, working with our partners, will also soon bring to the market closed-cycle, zero-emission gas turbine technology.
North Carolina, in general, is a progressive Southern state in terms of renewable portfolio standards and optimizing generation portfolios. But in terms of renewable generation, it is fairly new in the state’s energy marketplace. Certainly, we want to be able to play a role in that marketplace whether in the utility structure or the independent power producer structure.
What’s the most exciting thing that TAES is working on now?
One of the exciting things that we’re working on — and it has nothing to do with energy generation — is that Toshiba has medical cancer therapy technology from their nuclear manufacturing abilities called ion cancer therapy. We are bringing that to the U.S. market and are actively involved in a number of applications, specifically one at a medical university. Basically, a 20-minute medical session a couple of times can totally eliminate concentrated cancer tumors without any adverse effects.
This is a system that has been operating very successfully in Japan with good results. It’s exciting to bring a technology that prolongs life for many people who were advised that they had a terminal medical condition. More to come on that; I can’t name the entity, but soon enough we’ll make an announcement.